8120th Security Council Meeting: Work of International Tribunals

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06-Dec-2017 02:55:24
Briefing Security Council, former Yugoslavia tribunal president expresses pride in closing down court by end of 2017 at 8120th meeting.

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Addressing the Security Council today, the President of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said he took great pride in closing down an institution of that calibre and in having kept his word to the 15 nation organ that the Court would close by the end of 2017.

Tribunal President Carmel Agius, noting that the body had finished its judicial work on 29 November, said that in supporting the creation of the Court, his predecessors had put their signature on an important page in the history of international justice and the fight against impunity. There was another history, however, he said, namely the history of those who were afraid to accept the Tribunal and even denounced it, of those who did not choose to fight impunity, but, for reasons of political or personal gain, blind nationalism and ethnic hatred, preferred immunity and even glorified those who had committed atrocities.

The Tribunal’s achievements did not begin and end in The Hague, he continued. He was disturbed by the numerous crimes yet to be prosecuted before domestic courts in the former Yugoslavia. The rise of revisionism and nationalism throughout the region could not be ignored. “Do not delude yourselves; the absence of war does not mean peace”, he said. Ending impunity for mass crimes was not the preserve of any one institution — it was a common goal that tied all together in the shared quest for justice, peace and stability.

“You, the Members of this Organization, decided that heinous crimes such as rape, torture, ‘ethnic cleansing’, and the wanton killing of civilians, affect each and every one of us, because they imperil the principles of civilization, as protected by the rule of law and enshrined in internationally recognized standards of human rights and humanitarian law,” he said.

Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, said that it was just over 25 years since the Council had created an international court for terrible crimes. He affirmed that the Tribunal had made plain that even complex trials could and must be conducted in accordance with the panoply of due process guarantees. As a result, the principles of international law were stronger and, “accountability for grave crimes is increasingly the expectation rather than the exception”.

Describing the current activities of the Residual Mechanism, he said it was “serving as a new, effective and efficient model of international court” in carrying out duties such as preparations for administration disposition of records, in further developing its legal and regulatory framework and working on provision of assistance to national jurisdictions. The fulfilment of the Mechanism’s mandate depended on the ongoing support of the Council and the broader international community and on the commitment to all concerned to the invaluable legacies of the tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanisms for Criminal Tribunals, Serge Brammertz, said his office remained focused on expeditiously completing the limited number of trials and appeals transferred from the former Yugoslavia Tribunal and on locating and arresting the remaining eight fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It was also helping national jurisdictions investigating and prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

He acknowledged that the Tribunal had failed to achieve reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia, where many still viewed convicted war criminals as heroes while victims and survivors were ignored and dismissed. “The reality is that there is still no true will within the region to accept the immense wrongdoings of the past and move forward — sadly, most of all among the political leadership,” he said. Too many people listened to war criminals, who hid behind claims of collective responsibility, when in fact no community bore responsibility for what those men had done. He emphasized that justice was an essential precondition for achieving reconciliation.

Croatia President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovič said the Tribunal had lifted the hopes of thousands of her people who had suffered at the hands of a “merciless aggressor” and had lived up to its expectations. She noted, however, that the Tribunal had spent too much time on procedural and status related matters and not enough on providing victims with a true sense of justice. The fact that Slobodan Milošević evaded the final legal judgement remained a gaping hole in the Tribunal’s legacy. She rejected the interpretation of the Court’s recent judgement in the Jadranko Prlić case that the Croatian nation was guilty. Pointing to the ruling of the Appeals Chamber in July 2016, she stressed that the Tribunal did not have the competency to make findings on State responsibility.

Serbia’s Minister for Justice, Nela Kuburovič, said her country’s record in complying with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had been “exemplary”, noting that her nation had aligned its legislation with relevant standards. Citing statistics breaking down the number of indicted people by ethnicity, she said they spoke to the selective justice of the Tribunal, before going on to note that only Serbs had been passed life sentences. While the Tribunal receded into history, its legacy was here to stay, yet Serbia’s impression was that it had been “selective justice”, she said.

While speakers hailed the accomplishments of the Tribunal, among other things by contributing to areas of international criminal law, the representative of the Russian Federation said that at its foundation, it was assumed the Court would play an impartial role and contribute to reconciliation. He stated however, that the Tribunal was an example of double standards, with the majority of the cases involving Serbs. It was a one sided anti Serb interpretation, which had undermined establishing mutual trust in the Balkans. The Tribunal had closed its eyes to the non legal character of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations which had killed many civilians. A range of the Tribunal’s decisions had discredited the idea of international justice.

The representative of Uruguay said the closing of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal was the end of an important chapter in modern history. It was a symbol of the end of impunity. The Rwanda Tribunal had been a pioneer in the area of international humanitarian law. It had defined the crime of genocide and laid down significant jurisprudence regarding sexual violence and the destruction of cultural heritage. The Tribunals had contributed to reconciliation and conveyed the message that there could be no peace without justice.

Echoed by many, the representative of Italy expressed the hope that Member States would continue to provide support to the Residual Mechanism, which was working efficiently. There was a collective responsibility to build on the legacy of the Tribunals, he said, noting that the primary responsibility for justice for war crimes rested with States, while the international community must be ready to provide assistance and to step in if international standards could not be met. The fight against impunity demanded full cooperation and did not finish with the closing of the Tribunals.

The representatives of Egypt, Kazakhstan, China, Bolivia, United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Senegal, Ethiopia, Ukraine and Japan also spoke. The representative of the Russian Federation and Ukraine took the floor for a second time.

The meeting started at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:59 p.m.
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